8 Must-Haves of Youth Ministry


“Our youth group would be so awesome if we had a youth room like this.”

“More people would show up if we had a band like that.”

“Did you see how many video games, tablets, Super Nintendos, or TVs they have?  We need that!”

These may sound like they come from a bunch of teens but instead it’s what comes out of our mouths many times after we visit another church.  If we just had this or just had that.  That’s what it would take.  You attended a conference at a massive church that used 85 inch touch screens to sign in, have 3,415 TVs and there is a pool out back.  We want youth to show up so bad we think that will get us there.  Our hearts are in the right place but we get blinded by the stuff.  We forget that those are established youth programs that have a lot of stuff but are still more focused on the basics.

So, if you get rid of all the stuff, what must a youth ministry have to succeed?

1) God

Sounds so obvious but God has a tendency to get over looked.  There are two ways we need to remember to have God as the center.

  1. You and all your leaders need to have an active relationship with God.  You do not have to have all things faith figured out but growing towards perfection is the goal.  There should be expectations that leaders, this includes you, are attending worship, active in small groups, and participating in the life of the church.
  2. God needs to be invited to the party.  This means all decisions are prayed over, all programs are God centered, and all business meetings include a devotion or prayer.

2) Relationships

Each and every student is important and without them the body of Christ is incomplete.  Students come to your ministry with vastly different faith profiles and life experiences so be open to that and don’t try to force them into a specific box.  Love them where they are and take time to get to know them personally.

3) Atmosphere of Difference

In the world students are hurt, pushed aside, pressured into living up to crazy expectations, and taught to focus more on themselves than others.  The church must be different.  The church is a place where our students can take off their backpacks of the stress, the pain, the hurt and anything else the world is throwing at them so they can focus on God.  What if you don’t have this culture?  Address it.  If there is drama, address it- the world would promote it.  If someone is hurting, address it.- the world would ignore it.  If someone is happy, address it- the world would  turn it around and make them feel guilty for being happy.

4) Spiritual/Biblical Elements

“Our small group is too shallow.  We mainly fellowship and I can do that anywhere with my friends.  I expect the church to not be afraid to talk about God.”  Too oftenwe get worried that students can’t handle the Bible or can’t focus enough for a guided meditation.  We don’t need to “dumb” down the bible or shy away from giving them spiritual experiences but instead explore the Bible and give them many avenues to experience Christ.

5) Intentional Planning

A great youth ministry isn’t just thrown together.  Praying like crazy and hoping that God will do it for you is like jumping off a cliff and praying that God will make you fly.  Miracles do happen and God is all powerful but his miracles are in his time.  That’s going to be a hard landing at the bottom.   When you take time to plan, it gives you more time to focus on God than on yourself.  It makes it more of God’s ministry than your own.  Take some time to plan.

6) Volunteers

I am a big fan of the Jesus model in ministry.  He has 12, or a few more, students in His ministry.  He taught them how to do ministry.  Then they did some ministry and also taught others how to do ministry.  If you can focus on 12 volunteers and teach them how to teach others to do ministry, pray for them, resource them, you will get to watch a plethora of students become strong in faith.  You can’t succeed in ministry on your own.

Here is a great article on recruiting volunteers youthministrycollective.seedbed.com/five-simple-steps-recruit-volunteers/.

7) Church Involvement

A youth ministry of a church can not be a ministry by itself.  You are not creating another church with a congregation that happens to be all teenagers.  Your church and youth ministry need to be involved with each other.  The youth need to be involved in the life of the church. This means attending worship, being on committees, and volunteering in ministry areas of the church.  On the other hand, the church needs to be involved in youth ministry.  This means being mentors for confirmation, small group leaders for youth group, and prayer partners for mission trips.  Finally, the parents need to be involved in the life of the church.  One of our jobs is not only lead youth but also lead their parents.  If we want our students to succeed in faith, we need to help parents also succeed in faith and become active members of the church.

8) Fun

In Romans it says “God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”  Building disciples is His purpose.  Take some pressure off yourself and know you are doing great work.  So have some fun with the students, the volunteers, and with Jesus.  Jesus is fun and so should your ministry.

Underneath all the stuff, there are some basic fundamentals that all youth ministries must have.  We get busy and focused on what we think we need to succeed and forget the basics.  How are you doing with these musts of youth ministry?  What are you missing and what would you add?


Rick has been working in youth ministry for the past 11 years and is currently the Director of Youth Ministry at Ankeny First UMC, a suburb of Des Moines, Iowa. Rick and his wife, Becky, have two children. They spend their time camping, jet skiing, and zip lining in their backyard.